Peru's Fujimori Under Seige As U.S Calls Him 'Threat'

Peru's President Alberto Fujimori Is Easily Winning The Presidential Runoff, But There Is A High Percentage Of Spoiled Ballots

Reuters -- 29 May 2000

by Jason Webb

LIMA, Peru - Peru's President Alberto Fujimori was besieged abroad and at home Monday after the United States rejected his election victory as invalid and condemned his ''regime'' as a serious threat to democracy in Latin America.

Fujimori won a third consecutive term in Sunday's election which was boycotted due to fraud fears by opposition leader Alejandro Toledo and international monitors. Toledo plans a non-violent campaign on the models of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King to force fresh elections.

``In view of the refusal to accommodate international observers' complaints regarding lack of time to validate the newly installed vote-counting system, we do not see the election as being valid,'' a State Department spokeswoman said in Washington.

``The manner in which the Fujimori regime handled this problem is a serious threat to the inter-American system and its commitment to democracy,'' she said, asking not to be named.

At a mass rally in Lima's historic center Sunday night, former World Bank economist Toledo denounced Fujimori as a dictator and vowed to overthrow him. A crowd of tens of thousands hailed Toledo, son of an Andean peasant, as the moral victor.

The official figures suggested that the country of 25 million people was split roughly down the middle.

With about 70 percent counted, Fujimori had 50.3 percent of votes while Toledo had 16.5 percent. But another 32.2 percent cast invalid votes -- apparently heeding Toledo's call to deface the ballots with the words ``No to Fraud.'' Voting is compulsory in Peru, with a fine of for abstainers.

President Clinton said last week he would review relations with Peru if Sunday's vote was not postponed to allow time to clear up concerns over glitches in electoral computers, media bias and state handouts to the poor. Fujimori told Reuters Saturday that the United States was misinformed about Peru's elections and that he would avert U.S. sanctions by presenting Washington with the facts of a vote he said was fair and just.

The Organization of American State (OAS) can impose sanctions if there is an interruption of a member state's democratic process and could call for new elections. The OAS withdrew its observers from Peru's vote after Fujimori's government refused to postpone the election to allay fraud fears.

Pro-government television channels sent cameras to a planned Fujimori victory rally in an impoverished shanty town on the arid outskirts of Lima Sunday night. But they waited in vain for him to show up as official results showed the incumbent with about 50 percent of the votes.

Opposition Says Result Poor For Fujimori

The opposition press celebrated what it said was a poor result for Fujimori given that his only rival refused to participate and that the absence of independent monitors had left the field open to possible pro-government fraud in a country with one of the region's worst rights records.

``Fujimori ran the race on his own and still lost!'' was the full-page headline of daily La Republica.

But the pro-government press trumpeted victory.

``The Chinaman yes, the other no, the people made their choice!'' declared mass circulation tabloid El Tio, referring to the 61-year old Japanese-Peruvian Fujimori by his nickname.

Clashes between anti-Fujimori protesters and security forces had fizzled out by late Sunday.

But, as details continued to emerge from this nation of remote mountain and jungle villages, the state ombudsman's office said hospitals in the Amazon port of Iquitos were full of children recovering from the effects of tear gas that wafted into their houses from the chaos on the streets.

Protesters were recovering from bullet wounds in the central Andean town of Huancayo after the army was called in, said the ombudsman's office -- the government rights monitor.

Fujimori, who last appeared in public when he voted after breakfast Sunday, received the unsurprising news of his victory in his government palace, presidential sources said.

Just a few blocks away, tens of thousands of Toledo supporters cheered the 54-year old as if he was the victor.

Pro-Fujimori television ignored Toledo's rally -- the only one held on election night -- and one of the country's most watched stations preferred to show Pokemon cartoons.

Political analysts believe that the international community is unlikely to take tough action against Peru.

Peru is the second-largest source of coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine, and Fujimori has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against drug smuggling.

In the first round election on April 9, Fujimori got 49.9 percent to 40.2 percent for Toledo, who alleged fraud.

Fujimori has transformed Peru in 10 years and many people still feel deep gratitude for his success in defeating Maoist Shining Path guerrillas who at one stage seemed on the point of capturing Lima in a war which left 30,000 dead. He has stabilized a once ruined economy and brought steady growth. In 1992, Fujimori faced off international condemnation when he sent tanks into the streets and closed down a Congress he said was corrupt and ineffectual. Ordinary citizens cheered and he won a landslide victory for reelection three years later.